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Thursday, October 20, 2011

...cont. Our first O-Conus PCS

Ok, I pick back up at where I left off in the previous post… if that makes any sense to ya =)

Now Alex left in June on a direct flight to Germany. He was told to have us, the fam, come later due to housing wait times being longer than normal (sound like your automated message on every corporate phone call you make? Dish = “I’m sorry we’re experiencing heavy call volume you wait might be longer than normal” PLEASE! What IS normal? I get that message EVERY time I call! Haha!) So, that’s how we did it. His orders were ‘family deferred.’
Now, when I went to the ticketing office about getting the dogs on the same flight as Lexi and I we were told that is completely up to us to call the airlines to see if they had room on the flight we get booked on and how much it will be and all their regulations on it. And the ticketing office doesn’t book our tickets until Alex’s orders include us (meaning they were amended to say his PCS included the fam). So I told them I was going to NH because our house had been rented starting June 15th. Get this… that’s when they told me, (almost just like this!) ‘ut uh. No ma’am. We can only book your ticked from old duty station to new duty station.’ I had to ask her to repeat that because with her thick accent (which was really more attitude than accent) I didn’t get what she was saying. Typing it just now I can still hear the way she said it in my head. Well… now what, right?
So we called the Airforce’s AMC (Air Mobile Command) and asked what they could do for us. I knew there were several air bases on the east coast and we had flown through the Dover, Delaware and then the McGuire, New Jersey air bases on our trip to and from Germany. I figured we could just jump on one of those flights with the PCS orders no problem. They said they can’t have pets on their flights but rotator flights could and they gave me the phone number to that office. So the run around continues (I didn’t even know what a rotator flight was!)
So I called the number they gave me. Senior Airman Tugman got on the phone with me after I talked to two or three different people and he helped me out and said yes he could book it for us with a copy of Alex’s orders once they were amended and included us. In fact he could book it before we had the amended orders and he would just need them a couple of days before the flight. He told me we’d be flying out of Dover DE which does regular flights to Ramstein. This was great news! I was very relieved to start putting the pieces together! Also keep in mind all this is being taken care of while Alex was gone! Haha!
Well, I had to dig a little deeper and ask ‘well how much are the dogs’ and little by little I pieced all the info together. Dogs on rotator flights with PCS orders (the only way you can book a rotator flight is if you have PCS orders) cost $120 up to 70lbs and cannot weigh, with kennel, more than 150lbs. Yeah, well if you knew my dogs you’d know we were in the higher bracket. So each dog would cost us $240. But I didn’t care I was happy we didn’t have to pay for Lexi’s and my ticket since we weren’t flying directly from ‘old duty station to new duty station’ (I hear that accent again!!!).
When Alex ended up getting housing I immediately called Mr. Senior Airman Tugman directly and said ‘hello, remember me, I only called you a million times with a million questions each time a new one popped into my head?’ He didn’t. Oh well. I told him to book my flight. You’d think that this is where the story ends, wouldn’t you? Hahahah! I had called him at the end of July because Alex was getting the keys to the house August 8th. However, Mr Tugman informed me there were not slots available for the dogs until… dun dah dah... September 20th! WOAH! Well I told him book it and we’ll see what other options we may have.
I started calling Lufthansa and pricing them, haha! Yeah right! The dogs alone were over $500! So I called the ticketing office again and said, look, this is ridiculous! Our tickets should be cheaper now because we did half the trip already (WA to NH now we just need to get across the Atlantic Ocean!) It must have been a different person on the phone because that’s when I learned, oh, all I needed to do was get Alex’s orders amended to saying ‘family’ is residing in NH. WHAT? Seriously? Man you people! So we looked into getting the orders amended and started looking up plane tickets on the east coast. But when I called Lufthansa a second time they said the dogs probably couldn’t fly because of a higher than normal heat index (here we go with that normal thing again… you can’t get what you want because things just aren’t normal right now!)
So, I called Mr Tugman back and asked if anyone had canceled, then realized I would probably need two people on the same flight with a dog or one person with two dogs to cancel and the odds of that weren’t likely. So, we settled in and accepted it. What a mess, huh?
I had planned all along that I would go to my bestest friend Larissa’s house (you just leave me alone spell check, she is my bestest friend, I don’t care if you like that word or not!) and spend some time with her before flying out. So I called her with my dates and it made me happy to know I’d be seeing her before we left the states (not that I think it’ll take long for her to come visit me. She’s my li’l travel buddy!).
Now I had to track down some ginormous dog kennels for my beasts. They had to be able to lie down, stand up and turn around comfortably and with normal posture. Cue in craigslist. I got really lucky when I learned my parents still had a huge one under their back porch from when they owned a lab and I only ended up needing to buy one at $50 (a huge savings over the $200 price tag at PetSmart and Pet Co). I was going to go to Costco to get dog beds (they carry those really nice and really big ones for just under $20) but our membership had expired and we didn’t renew b/c of the move. So on top of tracking down a friend with a membership the only Costco near my parent’s house in NH is a good 30mins away. I guess I just wasn’t up to it because I threw our old pillows from off the bed in there! Haha!

So, everything was in order and the clan (Dad sitting passenger, Lexi in her car seat in the back with the two boys laying on the seat beside her and my driving) headed south the Thursday before my flight. We drove 2.5 hrs to Connecticut and stopped to see my niece and my brother, Kris’ ex wife. It was fun we got to take pictures of my little Lexi and her little Abby playing together in the park. They acted like old chums! Abby got out of the car and yelled ‘Lexi’ and in turn Lexi yelled ‘baby Abby’ (who is older than her!) and they ran to each other and embraced. Then they walked off hand in hand towards the park! I should mention the only time they’ve ever seen each other before was when Lexi was 6mos and Abby was 1.5yrs. Other than that just a few skype chats here and there. How incredible was it to see that, then!

After that we continued south to New Jersey and spent the night at my dad’s sister’s house, Tante Hannah. There a lot of my dad’s side of the family came to say hello. Many of which hadn’t met Lexi yet so I was glad to get that visit in. My Tante Hannah had wooden shoes and gave Lexi a little pair that she still wears around the house! She loves them!

Friday after breakfast we finished the trip, another 4 hours, down to Larissa’s house outside D.C.

We really enjoyed ourselves at Larissa’s little farm with her horse and her donkey and her dog. She also has a second horse that boards there. I love the DC area and I love a place called ‘Nicks’ in Alexandria Virginia where we go line dancing, two-stepping and lots of swing dancing whenever I come to visit her!

Larry, Lexi and her baby mammoth donkey, ZaZ. (Larry is what my pet name for Larissa!)

So the day of my flight arrives. We get everything packed back up in the car and we head out, back up north, one hour to Baltimore for my flight. One last stop at PetCo (couldn’t find a Pet Smart but I guess I don’t really care either way) and $70 later... we’re on our way! I had to buy them new engraved tags, two each, one tag identifying their info and owner’s contact info and the other displaying their chip company and their chip number. I also got them some massive bones and some toys for their kennels en route.

After arriving in Baltimore we rushed in a last minute tourist stop in, one I highly recommend if you’re in the area. We went to Fort McHenry. It was awesome!

Dad at Fort McHenry

Lexi and I trying to get the boys in the photo!

Once we get to the airport, we pulled all the way down to the last door and it reads AMC. We park right there in the departures area in the ‘loading’ zone. Oh boy did we have some unloading to do! First I went in to get a large flatbed cart with wheels. We had to untie the kennels off the trunk and put them together. Then get our luggage out and the stroller. Then came little Lexi. And lastly we got the dogs out and directly into their kennels and then wheeled them into the airport (they’re not aloud out of their kennels while in the airport). It was quite a site. Comforting, though, was that everyone else there were military families and many of them had kennels with them! I had no idea it was going to be like that! We checked in and my dad had to take off before we finished. He still had three hours driving time in front of him back up to New Jersey where he was going to visit with his side of the family for a few days and it was already getting on 8pm.

So, here I am… a large cart on wheels with two ginormous kennels on them, our carry on bags on top of that (I already had finished checking our other bags) and my daughter sitting on the edge of the cart while I walk across the terminal to an elevator (the one that was close was out of service.. which apparently isn’t the norm.. it just so happened to be the night we arrive… hahah!). Amazingly, whichever architect or engineer that decided that part of the terminal decided to make it on a slant. So down the hill I went trying to control this monstrosity from taking off on its own. I find the elevator and down one flight to ground floor, out that door alllllll the way back up the terminal (so I was directly underneath where I was departing from – only, thankfully, there was no ramp on the ground floor) and out the back door to a TINY area for dogs to ‘relieve’ themselves, as the sign read. It also said ‘leashes required. Ha! ‘Here boys, get out, go potty!’ I said, letting them run free while Lexi and I waited. Back in the kennels, back across the terminal, up the elevator, UP the ramp this time, (quite a site we were I’m sure) and finally they were at their drop off zone and Lexi and I headed to the plane without the boys. It was an overnight flight so I had hoped we would sleep through it. Well, that didn’t happen! Before we took off a woman came on board and handed us the slip of paper we had filled out and put on the dog’s kennel. We had written the dog’s name, our name and our seat number on a slip of paper they attach to the kennel and they bring it to us to let us know the dogs did make it on the plane. Then it took them at least an hour and a half to finish bringing around drinks and dinner. Apparently this airplane didn’t have the track lighting so the overhead lighting had to remain on while the attendants were in the aisle. Well they started this about 1.5 hours before landing the next morning as well to serve breakfast. So, an 8 hour flight and I probably only slept 5 or less of it!

I was just happy to be there! Alex was waiting for us after customs, but they wouldn’t let anyone come into the baggage claim area so one by one I brought everything outside to Alex. I was sweating by the time we got to the truck. Lexi saw her Papa through the glass and had both hands on it yelling ‘Hi Papa!’ and then was turning around to tell everyone ‘that’s my Papa!’ Everyone got a kick out of it! It was so heart warming! When they opened the door she ran ahead of me and right into his arms! Someone said ‘Well she knows exactly who her daddy is, huh?’ hahah!

After we were loaded up in the truck and the kennels dismantled in the back we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us. We stopped for lunch and did a little ‘drive by sightseeing’ and Lexi and I finally saw our new home that evening, one month ago, September 20th. (I left on the 19th but it was an overnight flight).

We had been calling it ‘Papa’s house’ before we got here and it kind of stuck so I have to keep saying to her, even now, yes, it’s Papa’s house and Mommy’s house and your house! It’s our house!

Due to sleep deprivation we all went to bed on time that night, woke up on time the next morning and seemed to immediately fall into rhythm.

We only had 10 days with Alex before he left for a month to Grafenwoehr for a rotation, where he still is now… But hey, think that’s bad? He almost had trouble getting it cleared to not go on the Romania rotation, which would have meant I arrived to Germany with no one to greet me on the other side! Imagine? According to what is ‘normal’ there are buses contracted to take people to the base from Frankfurt… but I came in through Ramstein because of all the drama! I guess I would have had to taxi us all to Frankfurt, catch the bust, arrive on the base, then get a taxi to an address I didn’t know and find the landlord and ask for a key… all I’d have to do all this while speaking German! But thankfully none of that happened thanks to his Sgt. Major let him stay back and pick me up. I’ll have to thank him for that when I meet him!

And another part of the story complete! I might add a little to it in the next blog post.
‘Til next time… I’ll be living my life as a soldier’s wife. Sooo dreamy =)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Our first O-conus PCS

Our first O-conus PCS (that is Outside the Continental US - Permanent Change of Duty Station) 

It seems fitting that I start this blog with one of the toughest times I've encountered as a military wife. Also fitting because I am so far from family, so they can kind of 'keep up' with me, if you will, and follow along my daily life as a military wife =)

Bear with me as I back up one month, to September 19th, 2011; our first Oconus PCS. I suppose that’s not very accurate though, since NO PCS is done in a day. So I guess I’ll just start at the beginning…..
August 2010. My family took a vacation to Germany. It was a big affair. My father (who is from Germany), my mother, my sister Gretchen, her husband Tom, my littlest brother Hans, (who’s not so little at 6’2), and my husband Alex, our daughter Lexi, (then 13mos) and I - all went! We stayed 2 weeks and toured where my dad was born and grew up. It was awesome! We got to meet a lot of family for the first time and we just really enjoyed ourselves!

All of us in Germany on the last day 17 Aug 2010. In the town of Neckarsteinach along the Rhine-Neckar.

No sooner did we get back to Ft Lewis (where we were stationed at the time) when we heard all kinds of things about people coming down on orders, some of them… to Germany. (It seems everything happens while you’re away!) I was all kinds of excited! I kept praying, ‘God if it is your will... please let us go to Germany’ (but don’t tell my husband this!! Ha!)

Well, no lie, October rolled around and my husband came home and said he had received an email that day from... don’t ask ME who… the PCS gods I presume… and we would be PCS’ing to Germany come May. It was kind of funny, really. He broke the news to me all gently, like, ‘I know, this is going to be tough.’ Meanwhile I’m doing cartwheels on the inside!!! (but don’t tell my husband this!!)

So, it was a long ways off and there was MUCH to do! Back then my husband worked LONG hours! We awoke at and he didn’t come home until . It didn’t help that we lived almost an hour from the post. And I should mention that he had only just gotten home that June from a year long deployment to Iraq, his 4th Iraq/Afghanistan deployment. It was tough. But somehow, as usual, we made it work. We filled every spare moment with family time. People offered to watch our daughter so we could have a ‘date’ night but for us it was more fun to do things with our daughter and with our two dogs, the boys.

Favorite memory that summer after Alex came home? Driving to town to get ice cream and sharing it with Lexi and the dogs!

this pic was actually taken in Frbruary 2010 on Alex's R&R but I love it. And as you can see it's a long standing family tradition to go get ice cream togehter =)

Come January 2011 (just 6mos from returning from a year long deployment) he was off again to some school in Georgia. He was going to be gone for 2 school back to back and wasn't expected home until May. We actually got our PCS date moved back to June because of it.

For some reason, while he was gone, I had a very tough time. I ended up being so distraught and depressed that my sister, Gretchen, helped pay for our sister in law, Kelly, to come visit me. Kelly is married to our other little brother Ludwig (also not so little at 6’1, haha!) but he was deployed to Afghanistan at the time. (this is why he missed the big family trip to Germany the previous August). Kelly ended up spending 3 weeks with me helping me cope and helping me take care of Lexi. It is a time in my life I never want to remember and I blame it on having just rehomed my 3 horses (which was phase 1 of our oconus pcs) and just Alex being gone again and the stress of an upcoming PCS. Whatever it was, my sister and sister in law were my angels and really stepped up and came to my rescue.

After Kelly left I drove Lexi (then 18mos) and our 2 boys (the dogs) 17 hours down south to California to stay with Alex’s side of the family. Alex ended up coming home earlier than planned and I drove back up to be with him again in April. But remember, we had been apart since January.

A month and a half later, the end of May, as the movers finished up packing our house, Lexi and I kissed Alex goodbye and headed to NH. We had flown my father out to accompany me, Lexi and the two dogs on our cross country road trip from WA to NH. And it wasn’t a direct one, either!

We went from WA down south to CA, to stop one last time to see Alex’s side of the family. Then north east to CO to see my sister in law (who had JUST moved there from NH in anticipation of my brother Ludwig’s homecoming) from there we WOULD have gone to Ft. Riley KS to see my brother Hans but he had JUST deployed to Afghanistan as well. So... what did we do instead of heading straight to NH from there? Well we headed south again to Ft Sill Oklahoma to be with one of my bestest friends. (yes auto correct is trying to fix the word ‘bestest’ I don’t care! I love her). After a couple days with her family we finally headed to New England and good ol’ NH!

As we were approaching the finish line, (2 whole weeks later), Alex was getting on his direct flight from Seattle WA to Frankfurt Germany.

So, I relaxed. Phases two (the movers) and three (the cross country drive) of our Oconus PCS were over. We enjoyed the summer with my side of the family and all my close friends from grade school on up, but (a BIG but) we were missing Alex… a feeling that is all too familiar. And he was missing us. He had a lot to do to get settled in but he was definitely spending his free time checking out the area and enjoying himself. I had no clue JUST how much time he spent inprocessing until I arrived and and had to inprocess!!

Towards the end of summer it was, how do I say, GO time. There were a million things to do. I had to jump through a lot of hoops getting the dogs’ paperwork in order. This included faxing their records from the Fort Lewis vet, two trips to a military vet on an air base an hour away and then tracking down a USDA office 2.5 hrs away. (yes, I said USDA.. and no, we were not bringing cows with us, just our dogs!) Now mind you, all of this needs to be done last minute, and not by choice. But the paperwork has to all be dated within a certain amount of time before arrival in Germany. We had to show their vaccines, a bilingual health certificate and rabies vaccination sheet and a flight health certificate. On top of all that one of our dogs ended up needing to have a 2nd chip put in him because apparently the one he had wasn’t up to international standards! And all this information you need doesn’t come easy. It comes in pieces and you have to do your homework on it all. Otherwise, you have the fear of your dogs being quarantined up to 90 days on the other side. Something that would not only be heartbreaking for them and us (I mean they sleep on the bed with us) but would also cost us hundreds of dollars! Let me tell you, the Army does not make it easy for you to bring your pet!
Here I will let your eyes rest and finish up the story in my next posting.
                      ‘Til next time… I’ll be living my life as a soldier’s wife. Sooo dreamy =)

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